Insuring your policy

Defence expenditure is the premium paid to insure against the failure of foreign policy

A good defence strategy is one that manages the risks of foreign policy going wrong for one reason or the other. It might turn out that foreign policy was based on the wrong presumptions, or unexpected events might upset the geopolitical balance and so on. In these circumstances, a state should have the military capacity to ensure that its interests are protected. In other words, work for the best, but prepare for scenarios where the best doesn’t happen.

It follows that there is a good reason to keep the foreign & defence policy establishments at a sufficient distance in order to prevent confusion on their respective objectives. They must co-operate and co-ordinate at some levels, but it must be recognised that defence expenditure is essentially premium paid to insure against the failure of foreign policy.

There are two mistakes states can make: subordinating defence strategy to foreign policy and vice versa.

Nehru’s policy of non-alignment (as distinct from participation in the Non Aligned Movement) in the years following independence was infused with realism. But he failed to (and indeed refused to) invest in building the necessary military capacity to hedge against the chance that non-alignment might fail. In the event, he had to seek urgent military assistance from the United States in 1962 after the Chinese invasion.

Pakistan is an example of the other mistake. Its foreign policy is completely subordinate to its military strategy. It is eminently sensible for Pakistan to develop military capacity to defend itself against India. But it is high folly to then pursue a foreign policy of relentless hostility and antagonism towards its eastern neighbour.

The takeaway from this little post is that an essential question that foreign policy analysts must ask is—are the goods sufficiently insured?

R Venkataraman, RIP

Constitution-maker, defence minister, president

Former president Ramaswamy Venkataraman passed away in New Delhi today, aged 98. He was a member of the constituent assembly and rose to become president of the republic during a critical period in its history. His contribution to India’s strategic security is less well-known, but very significant. As defence minister in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet in 1983 he set-up a unique committee consisting of the three service chiefs, the top defence ministry bureaucrats and the top scientists in charge of India’s nuclear and missile development programmes. The biggest decision he made was to ask Dr V S Arunachalam and Dr APJ Abdul Kalam to accelerate the ballistic missile development programme by running five projects in parallel. It was Mr Venkataraman who allocated Rs 388 crores for the Integrated Guided Missiles Development Programme (IGMDP) that gave India the Agni, Prithvi, Akash, Trishul and Nag missiles.

In Wings of Fire, Dr Kalam writes: “He advised us to list all the resources we needed to achieve our goals, overlooking nothing, and then include in the list our own positive imagination and faith. “What you imagine, is what will transpire. What you believe is what you will achieve,” he said.”

My op-ed in Mint: On overseas military deployments

The need for a policy framework for unilateral action

In today’s Mint, Sushant & I call for a policy review on overseas military deployments:

…the emerging security environment and India’s increasingly global interests are likely to make the need for such deployments more frequent. Yet the current policy is dogmatic: Foreign deployments are contingent on being part of a UN mission. This is not only untenable, it also opens the door to an abdication of responsibility to protect India’s interests.

India must be ready to act unilaterally, but only dispatch forces to theatres—such as Somalia, Afghanistan or tsunami-hit littorals on the Indian Ocean—where its interests are at stake. Guidelines need to be developed to achieve twin objectives: strategic alignment with India’s geopolitical goals and operational flexibility for military commanders. [Mint]

Get the rest at Mint.

Overseas military deployments & defence decisionmaking

India needs to rethink its defence decisionmaking system

It is usual to conduct navel gazing after failures and fiascos. But it is good to do so after little successes. Even as the Indian Navy demonstrated the utility of its deployment in anti-piracy operations far from Indian shores, it is opportune to examine a debate that has been taking place in the background. As Manu Pubby reports the “Navy feels that it needs greater authority to tackle piracy off the Somalia coast. While the Navy has proposed that the Chief of Navy Staff be given the direct authority to sanction action against pirates in the high seas, the ministry has said that all permissions should be routed through the South Block.”

The navy’s case is based on allowing its commanders the operational flexibility to employ the appropriate assets to achieve its mission. This need not be inconsistent with the political leadership and top defence ministry officials having oversight over the broader strategic and policy issues. There is, obviously, a tension between the two, arising from where operational control ends and strategic policy starts. But the fact that there is contention between the naval headquarters and the defence ministry suggests that such issues have not been satisfactorily ironed out (perhaps because of a paucity of unilateral overseas military deployments).

Sushant Singh and I have previously argued that India must rethink its policy on overseas military deployments, and have advocated sending forces only to theatres—such as Somalia and Afghanistan—where its interests are involved. Such a policy requires development of guidelines that achieve the twin objectives: strategic alignment with geopolitical goals and operational flexibility for military commanders.

The decision of where and when to deploy is primarily a political imperative and should rest with the legitimate constitutional authority: the prime minister, the appropriate cabinet committee and the defence minister. The national security advisor, the defence secretary and the chief of defence staff must inform and advise the political authority. Of course, this means that the political leadership can task the armed forces with a particular mission. But it should not exclude the armed forces from submitting proposals to the political leadership, through defence ministry channels, seeking mandates to conduct particular operations. It is up to the civilian component—political and bureaucratic—to define the mission, sanction the capacity and approve the rules of engagement.

So empowered, the armed forces will have the mandate to conduct a particular military campaign with full operational autonomy for almost all levels of conventional warfare. Within the sanctioned capacity and rules of engagement, the military commanders will have the latitude to decide the best course of action to achieve the mission’s objectives.

It also needs changes to the structure of the armed forces. As Sushant Singh & Rohit Pradhan argue in this month’s issue of Pragati it is important to distinguish the roles military advisors and military commanders. So while the chief of defence staff (CDS) should rightly be the government’s chief military advisor, in this capacity he should not have operational control of the troops. Operational control, as K Subrahmanyam has pointed out, should be vested in theatre commands that combine army, navy and air force resources, along the lines of the US model.

Both the political leadership and the military brass might find it seductive to merely seek “control”: but what India needs is both a policy framework that defines roles and responsibilities of the top echelons of India’s defence setup, as well as a restructuring of the armed forces themselves. Until this happens, India’s approach to emerging military threats will be reactive, ad hoc and sub-optimal.

Pragati November 2008: The Sri Lanka dilemma

Contents

PERSPECTIVE
Don’t abandon the Tiger
A Sinhala-dominated Sri Lanka is not in India’s interests
T S Gopi Rethinaraj

The moment of truth on the LTTE
The decimation of the Tamil Tigers is a good thing
Subramanian Swamy

Tuning a new balance
China’s military transformation and the implications for India
Arun Sahgal

Looking back at Amarnath
India must seize the opportunity that has come in the wake of the crisis
Raja Karthikeya Gundu

IN DEPTH
The strategic imprint of India’s presence
A discussion on strategic affairs with Jaswant Singh
Nitin Pai & Prashant Kumar Singh

ROUNDUP
In tandem: military and civil bureaucracy
Differentiating military advisors and military commanders
Sushant K Singh & Rohit Pradhan

Faith in the system
The state must not restrict religious freedoms
Rohit Pradhan & Harsh Gupta

Rajiv Gandhi’s last manifesto
The Congress Party must rediscover its 1991 vision
V Anantha Nageswaran

The end of financial capitalism: what now?
Competent economic management has become all the more important
Mukul G Asher

BOOKS
Not a moment of boredom
Reviews of Pallavi Aiyar’s Smoke and Mirrors and Praveen Swami’s India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad
Nitin Pai

Download it from here

The civil-military balance (2)

Another call for a holistic review of matters military

While Commodore C Uday Bhaskar (retd) disagrees with our criticism of the service chiefs over the issue of the implementation of the Sixth Central Pay Commission report, he reinforces our call for a fundamental review of defence policy.

Weakening the sinews of its military by denigrating the chiefs is ill-advised when the nature of the security challenges is becoming more complex. The current ministerial panel brings together the most sagacious members of the UPA, and they could use this ostensible breach of discipline as an opportunity to initiate a holistic review of the Indian military and its future orientation. Setting up an Armed Forces Commission would be a highly desirable political initiative in this context. [The Hindu]

My op-ed in Mail Today: Send the Navy to tackle Somali pirates

India must act to protect its interests off Somalia

In today’s op-ed in Mail Today, I argue that India must be the ultimate protector of its citizens, wherever they might be on the planet.

ACCORDING to the International Maritime Bureau, pirates have attacked 69 ships off the coast of Somalia since January this year. They hijacked 27 and are currently holding 11 of them for ransom. Along with the ships and their cargo, they are holding more than 200 sailors hostage, of whom at least 18, including Captain P K Goyal of MT Stolt Valor, are Indian nationals. At least two Indian owned ships have been lost off these waters since 2006. A piracy-powered economy has developed in the Puntland region of Somalia, astride a corridor that carries a significant part of the worlds—and India’s—seaborne trade.
Continue reading “My op-ed in Mail Today: Send the Navy to tackle Somali pirates”

We will negotiate but we won’t

Is the government confused on handling the hostage crisis in Somalia or is it just confused reporting?

The pirates holding the crew of MV Stolt Valor have apparently issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the owners of the ship.

Under pressure, Indian Government was forced to react and Anand Sharma, MoS, External Affairs has said that India is being helped by neighbouring powers and international agencies were working with India to free sailors.

Earlier, the Defence Minister had categorically ruled out an offensive in the high seas saying that the Indian government was banking on negotiations to resolve the crisis. The statement had prompted angry families to ask if authorities were even considering ransom as a final option.

Government had also said that the government views Somali pirates as terrorists and as a policy will not negotiate with them. However, the government had assured that they will do everything to save the lives of the Indian citizens. [TOI]

Little did one know that the government’s much touted (and flouted) “no negotiations” policy would end up this way. It won’t send the Navy, and will rely on negotiations, but at the same time, it won’t negotiate with hostage takers because that is the policy. That means that the government won’t actually do anything, other than rely on commercial negotiations, neighbouring powers and international agencies.

But it’ll still send peacekeepers to the Congo…in the service of an ideal. The policy on overseas military deployments could certainly do with some rationalisation.

Let’s hope the above report is inaccurate. Because such a mix of apathy, pusillanimity and cravenness is well and truly unbearable. [A friend mentions seeing reports of the dispatch of a Navy ship. But it is unlikely that the ships can get there in 48 hours]

My essay in The Friday Times: The little revolutions in India’s military affairs

Making India’s defence policy consistent with its emergence as a significant global player.

Here’s a version of my essay that appeared in Pakistan’s The Friday Times July 11-17, 2008 | (Vol. XX, No. 21):

India’s armed forces, according to K Subrahmanyam, have “not modernised their decision-making process ever since Lord Ismay prescribed it in 1947. Command and control have not changed since the Second World War. We are now thinking about buying modern equipment when the force structure and philosophy of it go back to the desert campaign of Rommel and Southeast Asia Command of Mountbatten.”

Mr Subrahmanyam’s words highlight a much broader point—that India’s external and domestic contexts have radically changed, especially since 1991, and a wide-ranging rethink of its defence policy has become an urgent necessity. A comprehensive policy review, however, is yet to take place.

That’s because the country’s leaders—even those with an interest and expertise in defence matters—have been constrained by the diktats of coalition politics, repulsed by the vested interests of the civilian and military bureaucracies, and not least, deterred by the popular media’s enthusiasm for blowing up corruption scandals.

The central challenge is to make India’s defence policy—encompassing doctrine, equipment and manpower—consistent with its emergence as a significant global player. The process of economic liberalisation first initiated by the P V Narasimha Rao government in the early 1990s not only turned India into a trillion dollar economy by early 2008, but also made it an important stakeholder in global economic and strategic affairs. Even as this is placing new demands on the armed forces, the mix of resources available for defence has changed. Budget constraints, for instance, have eased. Manpower constraints, on the other hand, have become tighter. Mindsets and policies, though, hark back to the days when the reverse was true.
Continue reading “My essay in The Friday Times: The little revolutions in India’s military affairs”